This Is WAY Cool!

I was looking through the newspaper when I saw her picture. It didn’t take but one glance to see that it was Karen. There was that same sweet smile that was unmistakably hers.

As I held the newspaper my mind went back to another time. It was several years ago when I had first met Karen. I was working with handicapped kids in a junior high school. Karen was a fun-loving girl and she liked to tell jokes to the other students. She was a favorite of the other pupils because of her cheerful and caring attitude.

My job was to help the kids with whatever they needed. I sometimes helped Karen with practical needs that came with living most of her life from within the confines of a wheelchair. Karen was intelligent and what she often asked me to do was to quiz her from her schoolbooks for tests or to help her reach the books that she needed from the library shelves. Karen was always kind and appreciative of anything that I did for her and I never went away without hearing a soft “Thank you” coming from her lips.

Karen had been born with Spina Bifida and over the years she had dealt with hospitalization, surgeries, and all kinds of problems but it didn’t affect her joyful attitude.

Sometimes while we were together we would talk about whatever was on her mind. Karen was like any teenaged girl in that she had her favorite movie stars and often talked about which boys were the cutest. She also talked about serious things such as what she wanted to be when she grew up or she would talk about her faith in God. Karen was passionate about everything that mattered to her and she never took things for granted but seemed to revel in whatever joy she found in the moment. In spite of her handicaps, life was a great adventure to her.

One day a new program began at school that was just the type of adventure I knew Karen would enjoy. Extra volunteers were found to help and every Friday the handicapped kids that wished to participate could go to the indoor pool in town and swim.

The first trip to the pool took a little time to get things organized to accommodate taking so many students but it wasn’t long until we arrived at the pool. Many of the kids needed individual help so there were parents and volunteers there to assist them. My job, along with others, was to watch the kids in the pool that could swim alone and to be sure they were doing okay.

I suited up and walked out of the locker room into the pool area and there was Karen. She was the first one in the pool! She was swimming and laughing at the same time and then she swirled around and stretched out on her back and floated.

I laughed and said, “Well, Karen, looks like you are having a great time!”

“This is WAY cool!” she said drawing out the words in the latest teen lingo that expressed something very enjoyable.

“Heaven must be like this!” She said enthusiastically.

“Look, I can go anywhere I want!” Karen said as she turned on her stomach and swam with her arms across the pool. Although her legs didn’t work, her arms were strong and propelled her wherever she wanted to go.

“Where did you learn to swim so well, girl?” I asked

Karen treaded water with her arms as she answered, “My Grandpa helped me learn. He calls me his little mermaid because he says I take to the water like a fish.”

“Well, he’s sure right about that,” I said as Karen swam over to where I stood.

Karen turned as she made big splashes in the pool and said, “See, I’m free!”

It was then that I understood why swimming was “WAY cool!” to Karen. It was the only time that she could feel a freedom of movement. She wasn’t bound to a chair, or a bed, neither was she being helped by someone else.

I looked back down at the newspaper I held as I came back from my thoughts of the past. I sat staring at her picture for a long time. Yes, it was Karen’s smiling face and I thought about how much I missed her uncomplaining attitude toward life and her sweet joyful spirit. I remembered how her life shined so brightly and blessed so many who knew her. Her handicap never stopped her from loving.

Before I put the newspaper down, I took one last look at Karen’s smiling face on the picture in the obituary page. That smile that came from heaven now returned there. I reflected again upon the words she had once said to me in the past. With tears in my eyes I began to smile because I could just hear Karen laughing and saying, “See, I’m free… and Heaven IS…WAY cool!”

© April 27, 2005 Pamela Perry Blaine

Pamela and her husband live in Missouri. She writes, "Pam's Corner" for her local newspaper, The Edina Sentinel, that carries many of her stories. Pam has also contributed to books such as the new book by 2theHeart, People Who Make a Difference, A Tribute To Mom, and The Miracle of Sons. She plays piano and is an avid reader. She and her husband, who is a minister of music, have a gospel CD out of songs written by Pam. More information as well as a clip from the CD is on her Website:

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